Werner Watschke said he and his wife, Cristina, opted to move to McLean’s Franklin Park neighborhood a year ago primarily because of Chesterbrook Elementary School.

But he says they found so much more there.

Five neighbors welcomed Werner, 48, Cristina, 40, and their three children — 6, 4 and 20 months — with cookies and cakes. He said they enjoy the trees and the “little-town feel.”

And there’s the convenience.

“The school bus stops right in front of our house,” said Werner Watschke, whose family previously lived in another part of Fairfax County, near George Mason University.

“You’re so close to the city,” he added. “You really don’t feel like you’re that close.”

As the neighborhood experiences transition, newcomers and old-timers agree that the trees and friendliness are a few of the features in Franklin Park that not only draw residents but also keep them rooted there.

Parts of Franklin Park, like many other neighborhoods in Northern Virginia, are going through dramatic transformation as some new owners knock down charming yet small older homes and replace them with ginormous ones.


Yet you don’t have to look far to see vestiges of Franklin Park’s past. Some of the original 1909 houses still dot the landscape. And many of the streets are hilly, with so many twists and turns that cars can’t drive much faster than the 25-mph speed limit.

“It’s a real wagon road,” said Wallace Sansone, president of the Franklin Area Citizens Association for the past six years, referring to Franklin Park Road, which runs on the eastern border of the community.

“It was the cheapest way to build the roads, following the contours of the land,” said longtime resident Sue Neal, who did her thesis on the community as part of her work to earn a master’s degree in landscape architecture at Virginia Tech.


Replacing trees:
The Franklin Area Citizens Association, which includes Franklin Park and Franklin Forest, is made up of 800 households.

Franklin Park was platted in 1909, after a single track of the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad opened in 1906 on what is now Old Dominion Drive. A second track opened two years later.

Developers thought the railroad would attract people to the area. Yet “the railroad actually wasn’t enough to get it started,” Neal said. “They overestimated the number of people who would be taking the train.”

Franklin Park was named for Franklin Sanner, a developer who had shifted to “retreat” developments outside of the city rather than luxury apartment houses in the city, according to Neal. Franklin Park, she said, “was in the middle of nowhere.”

Over time, residents were drawn to the rural area that’s easily accessible to the nation’s capital. Some drive to jobs downtown, while others drive or walk to the East Falls Church or West Falls Church stations on Metro’s Orange Line. “It’s eight miles to the White House as the crow flies,” said Sansone, who moved to Franklin Park with his wife in 1969.

Beginning in the 1970s, additions became for many homeowners a popular solution for houses bursting at the seams. In the 1990s, new subdivisions were built off of Franklin Park Road.

Now as houses change hands, new owners often tear down the structures to build larger ones. Today, just-built houses can sell for $2 million or more.

“They buy the land and knock the old house down and build a new one,” Sansone said. Trees are often sacrificed. Neal said: “When the big houses are put up, they frequently cut down every tree on the lot.”


McLean, VA - April 20: A view of homes in the Franklin Park neighborhood in McLean, VA, April 20th, 2015. Located off Old Dominion Drive, near the Arlington-Fairfax County line, Franklin Park is one off McLean's oldest neighborhoods, buffered by hilly terrain and old-growth forest. (Photo by Evy Mages/For The Washington Post) (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

To replenish trees, the neighborhood developed the Franklin Area Tree Replacement Program.

Neal calls Franklin Park “a wonderful place to walk, but it takes a while.”

Indeed, without a car, you can be stranded in Franklin Park. Among the nearest shopping is the Chesterbrook Shopping Center on Old Dominion Drive, which includes a Safeway, Rite Aid, Starbucks and Subway. The shopping center is not easy to get to on foot from most of the community.


Living there:
The Franklin Park area is bordered by Kirby Road to the north, Old Dominion Drive and its side streets to the east, the Arlington County-Fairfax County line to the south, and Powhatan Street to the west.

Fourteen houses in Franklin Park and adjacent Franklin Forest have sold in the past 12 months, according to Megan Fass, principal of Fass Results Group, which is part of the brokerage firm Frankly Realtors. They ranged from a $900,000 five-bedroom, six-bathroom house to a $2.913 million five-bedroom, seven-bath property.

Houses on the market range from a $1.25 million five-bedroom, six-bath house to a $2.5 million five-bedroom, seven-bath property built this year.


Schools:
Chesterbrook Elementary, Longfellow Middle and McLean High.


Transit:
The East Falls Church Metro station is 1 3/4 miles from Franklin Park.


Crime:
According to the Fairfax County police, a burglary was the only significant crime reported in the area in the past 13 months.

Harriet Edleson is a freelance writer.